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Answers as a means to learn

On our T4 training platform, we can see how teams progress by the answers they provide. One of the teams did not show any progress. So – in my role as their trainer – I reached out and asked what was going on. It turned out, the team had read all the materials, but just had not given any answers yet, because they were not sure. They had more questions about their innovation project than answers.

Answers as indicators of what you know

Unfortunately, not responding to a question because you don’t know the answer is very common. All the years in school, we are asked to provide the right answer. Remember the old version of the SAT, where you were penalized for getting it wrong? When in doubt, it was better to leave the question blank.

In school, answers are to test how well we understand the material. Not as a means to learn.

In school, answers are to test how well we understand the material. Not as a means to learn.

So, what happens, when we ask teams to look at the business side of things? An area most participants never really had to look into, to do well in their job. And it is their passion for the technology, problem, or cause that drove them to innovate. Money rarely is the motivator. However, if you want to change the world – or closer by – deliver a new solution to your clients – you will have to make sure it is also financially viable. Thus, we ask teams to answer business-related questions, such as about users, values, current alternatives, etc.. Concepts that are not rocket science, but nevertheless unfamiliar and new. So no wonder, this team was hesitant to provide answers.

The ability to find answers is what matters

When innovating most answers are not-known. Sometimes, even nobody may know the answer yet or there may not be an answer at all. The challenge is to figure that out.

Thus, the answers you provide to get your innovation project started, are first attempts. They are guesses meant to be elaborated and built upon. These questions are not to test if you understood the materials. The purpose is to get you started. No one is expecting you to get it right in the first try.

It is your ability to make a guess – so you know where to start looking for the best answer – and then hunt down the answer, that will determine your success as an innovator.

It is your ability to make a guess – so you know where to start looking for the best answer – and then hunt down the answer, that will determine your success as an innovator.

A culture change

Making an initial guess and putting that down on paper to get started, is a culture change for our teams. All the years of schooling taught these professionals the importance to get it right. I am not saying that this attitude is wrong. On the contrary! I want every lawyer, nurse, physician, consultant, IT developer etc. to be 100% right when I need their professional opinion. I don’t want them to learn on the job. Certainly not when they are serving me!

Yet, trying to find that right answer first time around is not what will help you when innovating and developing a new service. If you had all the answers and all answers would be known, there would be no need to explore something new!

Thus, in the T4 training program, we don’t test for your ability to produce the right answer. Instead, we expect you to be “wrong” and learn as fast as possible. Try something – shoot in the dark if needed -, see if it works, and correct your path based on the feedback you receive.

What matters, is how fast are you learning. That is, how fast can you put something out there, test it out, get feedback, and improve upon your first hunch? Can you do this when it concerns matters that nobody knows the answer to, and for issues only you don’t know the answer to because you never had to deal with them? As an innovator, you will have to tackle both with the same fortitude.

Not much at stake – yet

Fortunately, early in the innovation process, there are no lives on the line and not a lot of capital is at stake. So getting it wrong and then iterating as quickly as possible to the right answer is acceptable. It has proven to be the best way to make progress and to set you up for success.

It does make for quite a culture shock for many of our users though. To accept that, as the experts in their fields, there are questions they don’t know the right answer too (yet). Fortunately, our users get the hang of this process really quickly. Just like the team I mentioned at the start, now two weeks later, they are well on their way!

 

 

 

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